AKP’s, not Turkey’s, axis shifting from West to East

AKP’s, not Turkey’s, axis shifting from West to East

Many would think that in view of the miserable state of the EU and its pathetic stance against Turkey that it was only normal for Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to avoid mentioning Europe and the Western alliance in general in his address to the party congress.

If this was just any ordinary congress of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), I could buy this argument, as current developments in the Middle East carry much greater urgency than Turkey’s relations with the EU. Yet for many, the AKP’s congress Sept. 30 was a crucial event shaping Turkey’s next 10 years. Actually Erdoğan went even further than the AKP’s official 2023 vision and talked about 2071, the 1000th anniversary of Turks’ entry into Anatolia.

So when we are speaking about Turkey’s next 10 to 50 years, can we do it without ever mentioning Europe? Is there no place in Turkey’s 21st century vision for Europe? I doubt it. So why has Erdoğan avoided talking about it? Simply because the speech was more about his political future than Turkey’s future, and although one might not think of one without the other, they are not necessarily the same. The fact that the EU does not figure in Erdoğan’s vision of Turkey does not mean that Europe will be nonexistent in Turkey’s future.

What was striking in Erdoğan’s speech was not so much the absence of the EU, which was interpreted by many as Europe no longer being a priority for Erdoğan, but actually it was the anti-Western rhetoric used by the prime minister. Prior to the party congress Erdoğan accused Germany, France and Scandinavian countries of not wanting to see an end to Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) terrorism.

“Germany does not want a solution. France does not want a solution. These countries do not help us. Instead, they let terrorist heads live in their territory,” he said. The most-developed countries in Europe “extend support to terror,” he added.

While the German and French governments’ policies on curbing PKK recruitment and financial activities have never genuinely satisfied Ankara, I doubt whether there is any evidence suggesting that they have changed their usual stance on the PKK, which was until now not directly criticized by Erdoğan. In fact it was during Sarkozy’s time that the PKK suffered serious blows in France. So the “when in trouble blame the foreign powers,” reflex seems to have resurfaced again.

During the congress he again targeted Germany and France, this time for not fighting Islamophobia. If there is one thing that can gain a political leader popularity in the Middle East, other than bashing Israel, it is bashing the West.

So as this congress was about Erdoğan’s future, it is fair to say that Erdoğan positioned himself as the leader of the Muslim world and from the frequency of Islamic references in his speech to the list of the foreign dignitaries that attended the congress, where there was not a single prominent European figure active in government, one can argue that Erdoğan and the AKP’s axis has shifted from the West (at one point it was there) to the East.

While there is no doubt that Erdoğan will play a key role in Turkey’s future, what this country is about is larger than Erdoğan and his vision. At the end of the day, Turkey’s realities, which include the fact that it is part of Europe, will also dictate the terms in shaping the future of the country. President Abdullah Gül’s messages in the Parliament about the EU a day after the congress are testament to this fact.